Chapter 27. Victory at the Martial Tournament.
The final round finally began. The two participants advancing to the final rounds were Kurotan and the third son of Earl Lastal, Hagun. Both of them had had to defeat their many opponents, finally reaching the finals for a chance at the glory of victory.
Unlike the other seeded participants who used a sword and shield, Hagun used two swords to execute a speedy sword style. Hagun was an opponent unlike any other faced so far by Kurotan.
In the ring where the final round would be held, Hagun stared down Kurotan with calm eyes. His grip on his twin swords tightened slightly.
‘Speed can defeat strength. I will be the victor of the martial tournament.’
Hagun burst into a run towards Kurotan as soon as the referee announced the start of the battle. His plan was to overwhelm his opponent with speed from the beginning, turning the flow of the duel in his favor without allowing his opponent a chance to go on the offensive.
Hagun’s plan, however, went astray right from the start. Kurotan’s senses, sharpened by aura, were overwhelmingly better when compared to the average person.
Add to his senses his experience and reflexes honed by his time as a veteran Great Warrior as an orc, and Kurotan became an opponent that Hagun could not possibly overcome.
Hagun’s sword strikes, although almost untraceable with the spectator’s bare eyes, were bouncing off Kurotan’s axe, which seemed to barely move.
Ting. Taang. Ting.
Some of Hagun’s sword strikes got through Kurotan’s defenses, but even those bounced off Kurotan’s armor plates that Kurotan maneuvered by turning his body slightly. As long as one was aware of the gaps and joints between the armor plates, an armor was more than enough to deflect sword strikes.
Kurotan continued to receive Hagun’s sword strikes calmly as he dug into Hagun’s defenses, when he launched a fatal strike. Hagun’s face paled as he struggled to dodge, but Kurotan’s axe changed its trajectory as if it had eyes of its own and struck Hagun’s side.
Hagun screamed out with a spray of blood from his mouth, and fell on his back side. Kurotan had aimed exactly at the joint between Hagun’s armor plates, and a pool of blood was already beginning to form on the ground.
Hagun scrunched up his face in pain as he put his hand on his wound and backed up, but Kurotan did not let him retreat so easily. Kurotan began to circulate his aura in the efficient manner of a veteran, and ran towards Hagun.
Hagun’s face paled as he swung his twin swords wildly, but Kurotan’s axe swung through the air to deflect them with ease. The heavy axe soon made contact with Hagun’s helmet.
Hagun’s eyes went blank as the sound of metal being crushed rang out, and he collapsed onto the ground in a heap. Kurotan thrust his axe in to the air in victory, prompting the quiet crowds to burst into cheers.
“Whoooo!! That was the best!”
“Finally, someone has won the martial tournament.”
Most of the people in the crowds were nobles. They did not bother hiding their surprise at the fact that Kurotan, a commoner, had won the tournament.
However, Kurotan had won with such domineering skill that they had no choice but to admit his victory.
“The final round has come to an end. The victor is Kurotan, who hails from Hansel Kingdom.”
The crowds burst into murmurs of conversation when Kurotan’s background was announced. Earl Jabel, who had been silently observing the match, stood up from his seat.
“Bring the victor here.”
“Yes, my lord.”
A short while later, Kurotan was standing in front of the Earl.
Earl Jabel glanced at Kurotan before switching his gaze into a paper in his hand.
It was the paperwork that Kurotan and Luke had submitted in order to participate in the martial tournament.
“Hansel Kingdom, a commoner from the City of Habest… Is this true?”
Earl Jabel was wearing a light smile.
This was because Kurotan was undoubtedly the most talented participant he had seen out of all the martial tournaments that he had hosted.
Should he be able to take in Kurotan as a vassal, the strength of his territory and land would be increased significantly.
‘If he is a commoner, then he won’t refuse my offer.’
Kurotan’s next action however, was completely unexpected. Instead of answering, Kurotan took his fist and put it in front of his lips, prompting the Earl to frown.
Even the knights of Jabel Earldom were taken off guard by Kurotan’s answer. The fact that Kurotan was undergoing silent training meant that he already had a lord who had ordered him to undergo the training.
‘He already has a lord?’
The Earl, still frowning, turned towards the crowd.
“Who was the person that ordered the victor of the martial tournament to undergo silent training?”
A figure stepped out from the crowds.
‘This is the critical moment.’
Luke swallowed his nervousness before walking up to the Earl. He bowed courteously before the Earl.
“I was the one who ordered Kurotan to undergo silent training, Earl Jabel.”
“And who are you?”
Luke took a deep breathe before answering.
“I am Luke Esteban, the fourth son of Earl Esteban of Hansel Kingdom. I am also Kurotan’s lord.”
Although Luke’s manners were impeccable even for a noble, the Earl’s gaze remained hostile. The Earl had found a jewel in a pig’s trough, only to discover that it already had an owner. The Earl’s anger at this fact was concentrated on Luke.
“Hansel Kingdom… Perhaps it’s because it’s such a small country, but the nobles of Hansel Kingdom do not seem to know their manners.”
“What is the reason that you do not pause his silent training in front of me? Do you take me for a fool?”
“How could that be?”
“Then what is it?”
Luke’s gaze headed towards Kurotan.
“Just as we explained earlier, Kurotan’s background is that of a commoner. He has not yet been educated on proper manners, and I did not wish to offend the lord Earl with his lack of knowledge.”
“Is not yet educated in manners? Then it must be so for other skills besides swordsmanship that a knight must have. Not yet educated.”
The Earl’s words were close to a tantrum, to which Luke struggled to reply.
“It has only been a short while since I have taken him in as my vassal.”
“Then he is an ‘incomplete’ knight.”
Earl Jabel’s eyes looked completely different as he gazed at Kurotan. His view of Kurotan had taken a 180 degree turn after he had found out that he would not be able to recruit him.
“I can understand why you chose to participate in the martial tournament, but it is the choice of the lord hosting the martial tournament whether or not to knight the victor.”
“In other words, if the victor is deemed undeserving by the lord of the tournament, there is no reason for the lord to knight the victor.”
Luke’s face paled. He had not expected the Earl to not give them any face at all.
‘Hmm, this is outside of my calculations.
Right then, Cooper, the knight who had been observing Kurotan from the start, walked up. He had been observing Luke carefully ever since he had revealed himself.
“I will ask you one thing.”
“What is it?”
“I trust that you will not lie in front of the lord.”
Cooper stalled for a few seconds while gazing intensely at Luke.
“Have you broken through to the level of an aura expert?”
“I’m asking you whether or not you are able to use aura to enhance your physical capabilities, the level of an aura expert?”
Luke began to frown slightly. He had been able to increase his aura storage with Kurotan’s help, but he had not yet been able to reach the level of an aura expert.
“I have not been able to.”
Cooper smirked as though he had predicted the answer.
“I don’t understand. The knight in training is an aura expert, but his lord is far less skilled than the knight.”
“It seems that your House has given you this vassal to look after you. I don’t know how the Hansel Kingdom operates, but it does not work in our Sith Empire.”
Cooper finished his sentence coldly and retreated back, as if he had nothing more to say. Earl Jabel continued to look at the crowd of nobles.
The Earl ignored Kurotan and Luke as he addressed the crowd.
“As you have all seen, the victor of the martial tournament has been decided. However…”
The Earl turned and looked at Kurotan coldly.
“The victor was merely a ‘fake’ knight. As you all know, swordsmanship is not the only qualification of a knight. He must also be well educated in the etiquette of nobles and an effective commander. The victor has failed to demonstrate these qualities.
The nobles in the audience seemed to respond positively to Earl Jabel’s points. The fact that the victor of the tournament was from another country was a hard fact for them to swallow.
“As lord of these territories and host of the tournament, I have chosen to award the knighthood to someone else. It is my wish that I knight someone who is actually worthy of knighthood.”
Earl Jabel, chest jutting out from the cheers of the crowd turned to Luke.
“Do you have anything to add to my decision?”
Luke took in a deep breath.
“How could I possibly go against you, my lord? One thing, however…”
“What is it?”
Luke’s gaze turned towards Kurotan, who was looking around stupidly.
“It is true that Kurotan is more talented in martial prowess than I. My talents, however, lie elsewhere.”
Luke’s words seemed to pique the Earl’s interest.
“Your talents lie elsewhere? All right then, what is your talent?”
“My greatest talent is…”
Luke straightened his back and looked the Earl squarely in the eyes.
“To recognize talent and foster it.”
The Earl made a confused expression.
“Explain so that I may understand.”
“Of course, my lord.”
Luke pointed at Kurotan.
“I met Kurotan exactly a year and six months ago. When I met him, Kurotan was serving in the army for his crimes as a murderer.”
Luke’s words shocked the Earl. If Luke’s words were true, it meant that Kurotan had become skilled enough to win the martial tournament in merely a year and a half.
The participants of the tournament, who had been standing at the Earl’s back, couldn’t hide their expressions of shock and surprise.
Hagun especially, who had lost to Kurotan in the finals, had his mouth wide open in disbelief. He had trained in the ways of the sword for fifteen years, and for him to lose to a commoner who had trained for a year and a half?
The Earl shook himself out of his shock and looked blankly at Kurotan.
“I find that hard to believe. You mean to tell me that Kurotan had not trained in the sword previously?”
“Kurotan comes from a dark guild in Habest city. He was familiar with using a dagger or his fists, but it was his first time using a proper weapon.”
The Earl’s mouth fell open again.
“I can’t believe it. I simply don’t understand how he could become this skilled in merely a year and a half. Truly a monstrous talent.”
The Earl stared seriously at Luke.
“And it was you who discovered his talent at first glance?”
“Yes, my lord. I can’t explain exactly how I knew of his talent, but my instincts told me so, and so I gave him an offer.”
Luke smiled slowly.
“I pledged to train him in a mid-level sword style and aura cultivation technique in exchange for his lifelong fealty and loyalty.”
The Earl remained speechless. The nobles making up the crowd remained shocked as well.
“What a monstrous talent, to be able to train to this extent in a year and a half…”
“I can’t deny that his potential is enormous, as we have already seen his strength during the tournament.”
Cooper interjected once again on behalf of the silent Earl, but his gaze was shaking from the shock as well.
“I will ask you a couple of things.”
“Which sword style did you train Kurotan in?
“I taught him the basics of the Esteban sword style, and the mid-level sword style given to me by my House.”
“I see, that explains his awkwardness with his sword style. And the aura cultivation technique? Is it from your House as well?”
Luke smiled before shaking his head.
“How could that be possible?”
“I served in the military for the sake of my House and received an aura cultivation technique from my House in reward.”
Cooper frowned at Luke’s flawless answers.
“An aura cultivation technique awarded for military service shouldn’t be that high in level.”
“It’s true. My House admitted to me that the cultivation technique was lacking in stability, but…”
Luke smiled while looking at Kurotan.
“Kurotan’s talent was beyond even my imagination. He trained in an aura cultivation technique that was lacking in stability, but became an aura expert earlier than I, and I have been cultivating my aura with a more stable technique for ten years.”
“Hm, this is difficult to believe.”
Cooper could only shake his head. He had trained painstakingly for twenty years before he was able to just barely become an aura expert.
“I acknowledge Kurotan’s talent. And I also acknowledge and admire your talent, for recognizing and fostering talents.”
Cooper retreated as the Earl took charge of the pace once again.
“Truly a valuable gift you have. To be honest, I am green with envy.”
“Thank you for your compliments, my lord.”
“Have you come to our Sith Empire in order to fully wield that talent of yours?”
“Yes, my lord. I hope to find and foster many talents in this vast empire, as well as look for a lord to swear my fealty to.”
“Completely understandable. Our Sith Empire cannot be compared to a small Kingdom like Hansel, and more likely to have unrecognized talents as well.”
The mood had changed dramatically while the Earl and Luke had been conversing. Luke had full control of the situation. The Earl swallowed nervously subconsciously.
‘The ability to recognize and train talent… truly amazing. Should I be able to recruit this man, the future of my lands would be guaranteed.’
The Earl calmed his shaking hands before speaking in a low voice.
“Do you wish to reside within my lands? I promise you nothing but the best treatment.”
Luke answered as though he had been waiting.
“I thank you for your magnanimous offer, my lord, but I wish to travel through more of the Sith Empire. Jabel Earldom is the first land I have visited since entering the Empire. Please allow me to experience more of the Empire.”
“Is that so? Truly a pity.”
The Earl made no attempt to hide his disappointment.
“My lord, you are the first person of Sith Empire to acknowledge my talent. I shall remember your generous offer of today.”
“As you wish. I am ready to welcome you anytime, so remember my offer.”
The Earl nodded in disappointment.
“As for Kurotan, the victor of the tournament…”
The Earl hesitated for a moment before nodding decisively.
“As a gesture of acknowledging your talent, I recognize Kurotan as a victor in full and award him with knighthood.”
Luke’s face lit up at the Earl’s words.
“I don’t know how to thank you, my lord…”
“No, I also admit that I was being slightly unreasonable.
The Earl admitted his mistake easily. He was trying his best to give a good impression to the immensely ‘talented’ Luke. He turned to the nobles to declare his decision.
“As the lord host of the martial tournament, I will award Kurotan, victor of the tournament, a full and formal knighthood.”
None of the nobles in the crowd seemed to object, possibly because they were still reeling from the shock of Luke’s words. Just like that, Kurotan succeeded in becoming officially knighted by Earl Jabel.